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Old 17th October 2010, 00:56   #1
tomclare
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Default Saint or Sinner, Hero or Villain - Or Just Simply the Greatest?

Saint or Sinner, Hero or Villain, or Just the Greatest?

Trawling the message board forums this last week, it was interesting to read the many threads in relation to what is perceived to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s continued support of the Glazer family regime – a regime which has plunged Manchester United into an abyss of strangling debt that grows with every passing year. Surprisingly, despite the almost twenty years of unparalleled success which he has brought to the club, his popularity seems to be waning with a large number of United's fans. When fans of other clubs would kill for just a smattering of the success which he has brought to Old Trafford, it seems strange that many fans are now beginning to question what kind of legacy he will leave behind when he does decide to call it a day at Old Trafford, and he rides off into the sunset. Some have suggested that instead of being remembered as Manchester United’s greatest ever manager, in terms of the defining word, “greatness”, he will come in a poor third behind Ernest Magnall, and Sir Matt Busby.

So what is their gripe about a man who has brought 2 Champions League trophies to Old Trafford, in addition to the European Cup Winners Cup, the European Super Cup, 11 Premiership titles, 5 FA Cups, 4 Carling/League Cups, the World Club Championship, the Inter-Continental Cup, and 9 FA Charity/Community Shield victories?

The main point of dissent appears to be, the perceived continued support that Ferguson allegedly gives to the Glazer family, and their ownership of Manchester United. Back in May, Ferguson was quoted in the press as saying; “They’ve been great owners. They have supported me in every way I’ve asked them. There’s no other reason to think that they haven’t supported me. If you have a look at any time that I have wanted a player, they’ve provided the money. If you look at what we’ve done this season – and most people don’t recognize this – we’ve spent over 20 million pounds on young players. We’ve bought Chris Smalling, Mame Diouf, and Javier Hernandez.” Of course since he made this statement, he has also paid over 7 million pounds for the untried and unseen, Bebe. Ferguson went on to say; “People don’t realize how we’re structured and how we see our future at the club. We’ve always based it on a nucleus and foundation of young players developing within the club.”

Looking at matters from Ferguson’s point of view, it seems that he is right – as far as he is concerned the Glazers have been great owners. He has everything that he wants – a terrific salary, has unchallenged authority at Manchester United where football matters are concerned; he has his own handpicked staff in place, and supposedly, he has no interference from the owners. So his garden is full of flowers and quite rosy as far as he is concerned. Some would say that it is not his job to speak out and rock the boat with his employers – and that is probably correct. Like anybody else in a professional environment, to start to criticize your employer, and the hand that feeds you, can only lead to one conclusion – and that is the sack.

However, the question that I would ask is that when the Glazer’s fiscal policies do start to have a heavier impact on his job, (and there are signs that this is already happening) what will he do then? Although he and CEO David Gill deny it, I doubt that anybody outside of Old Trafford itself believes that he has had sufficient funds available to buy the experienced players that he really wanted this past summer, in order to strengthen his first team squad. Sure, he points out that he has spent some money bringing young players into the club, but his track record of doing this over the years, does not augur well. If you were to look back over the years of his tenure, very few of the youngsters he has paid fees for have actually made an impact at Premiership level, and most have ended up being loaned out, and then moved on to other clubs. It’s a policy that United are very good at, and in particular when it comes down to their home grown players.

If you were to look at the Prospectus that was issued for the Bond subscription back in January 2010, it would make you wonder if this is deliberate on Manchester United’s part. On Page 58 of that document, under the heading “Youth Academy”, the following paragraph appears;

“Our Youth Academy is a primary source of new talent for our First Team, as well as a means of developing players, who may be sold to generate transfer income. The aim of our Youth Academy is to create a flow of talent from the youth teams up to the First Team. Since thefounding of the Premier League in 1992, a number of players from our Youth Academy have achieved a regular place on the First Team. Generally, we have experienced very good demand for players who do not become regular First Team players, from clubs in England and abroad.”

Looking at that statement, the question that I would like to ask Sir Alex Ferguson, and David Gill, would be - is that statement really true? Take the first part of the first sentence; “our Youth Academy is the primary source of new talent for our first team.” The facts certainly don’t support what is said. In the 90’s, apart from the “Class of 92” – David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, and the Neville brothers – only Ryan Giggs, and Wes Brown, can be said to have come through the system and cemented a place in the first team squad. Since 2000, only three other young players have attained a similar status; John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher, and more recently, Jonny Evans. Even though every single one of those players named reached international status, a return of ten home grown players coming through to first team level over a period of 20 years, is a poor return for the massive amounts of money poured into the Academy system at United.

It’s a similar story with young foreign players. Over the last five years, there has been a steady stream of talented young foreigners who have found themselves at Old Trafford. Apart from Ronaldo, (and United paid over 12 million pounds for him), not one of them has really made an impact on the First Team. The following players have all left the club during that time; Bellion, Pique, Rossi, Dong. Manucho, Possebon, Petrucci, Tosic, Robert-Zeiler. Of those that are there now; Anderson, Nani (For whom United paid a total of 30 million pounds for the two of them), de Laet, Diouf, Obertan, Bebe, Hernandez, King, and Eikrem – there are not many you would put your money on and say they will become established, nailed-on, first team players. Nani is beginning to show a little consistency, Anderson has gone backwards, and Hernandez may well turn out to be a real gem – only time will tell. But the others, the odds really are against them. So again, it’s a policy that has had very little return, and goes against what Ferguson says.

The second part of the first line of that statement is absolutely true. “As well as a means of developing players, who may be sold to generate transfer income.” Over the last twenty years, the number of young players who have come through the Academy and made at least one first team appearance and have then been moved on to other clubs is phenomenal. It’s not possible for every young player to make it – it would be silly to think that they can. But a good number of the players that United have let go in years gone by, had they been persevered with, and given more opportunity, it is probable that there would have been a good percentage who would have made it.

Today, once these kids have been released, it is getting harder and harder for them to find other clubs. The main cause of this is the huge number of foreign journeymen players finding their way into our leagues. This summer it is interesting to note that out of all the transfer deals that were done, 74 new foreign players were signed by English clubs, with only 24 foreigners moving out of England for Europe. So that is another 54 foreign players in the leagues adding to the number that was present last season. So United do have a youth policy, but the evidence points to the fact that other clubs benefit from it more than themselves. To jog your memory, here is a list of players that appeared in at least one first team game for United but were then moved on:

Michael Barnes, Frazer Campbell, Chris Casper, James Chester, Michael Clegg, Terry Cooke, Nick Culkin, John Curtis, Simon Davies, Jimmy Davis, Chris Eagles, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Adam Eckersley, Richard Eckersley, Tony Gill, Keith Gillespie, Deniol Graham, Jonathon greening, David Healy, Danny Higginbotham, Eddie Johnson, David Jones, Richie Jones, Kieran Lee,, Mark Lynch, Jules Maoirana, Phil Marsh, Lee Martin, Pat MacGibbon, Colin McKee, Daniel Nardiello, Alex Notman, John O’Kane, Kevin Pilkington, Danny Pugh, Paul Rabchuka, Kieran Richardson, Mark robins, Lee Roche, Ryan Shawcross, Danny Simpson, Michael Stewart, Ben Thornley, Graham Tomlinson, Michael Twiss, Ronnie Wallwork, Danny Webber, Richie Wellens, Neil Whitworth, Ian Wilkinson, Mark Wilson, Nicky Wood, Paul Wrattan.

Quite a list and of course there are a few hundred others who never made a first team appearance, but went on to other clubs. So although Ferguson is quick to point to the great youth system at United, it’s one that has only produced 10 regulars for his first team in 20 years, and has mostly benefitted lots of other clubs. The simple fact is that the real nucleus of Ferguson’s teams has mostly been laid on a foundation of players of whom he has paid large fees for. However, it cannot be disputed that the teams he has put together have been absolutely outstanding, and have played the kind of football that the fans wish to see. This is backed up by the number of trophies that have found their way into United’s trophy cabinets. So following on from that, undisputedly, throughout Manchester United’s rich history, he has been the most successful manager by a country mile.

But is greatness just defined by winning trophies alone? Some would say not apparently. There have been comparisons to Ernest Magnall, and Sir Matt Busby. In reality, it’s really a two horse race. Magnall does not even get into the frame where Ferguson and Busby are concerned. Granted, he was the first real person to bring success to Manchester United, but it was built on the back of under the counter payments, subterfuge, and with a lot of wheeler dealing, especially in the signing of the four best Manchester City players in June 1906 whilst they were under suspension. It was also achieved with a lot of assistance from both John Henry Davies, and Harry Stafford. Of course when the going got tough as the team declined, Magnall moved on to Manchester City, again amidst strong rumour about inducement.

Busby took a club that had no home ground, little money to deal with, and embracing James Gibson’s vision of a club that could produce its own young players, he revolutionized English football with that policy. He had a clear mental picture of the football he wanted, and he put his faith and reputation on building sides the way he wanted the game played. He also laid down the foundations of the club that we saw until 12 May, 2005. He made everybody connected with the club feel that they belonged – players, staff, and fans alike. It was such a unique relationship. The Club, its standing in the game, and in the community, was all so important.

The conveyor belt of young players that came through in the early to middle 1950’s was phenomenal, and it is a record that has never been matched and probably never will be. Bill Foulkes, Roger Byrne, Jeff Whitefoot, Mark Jones, Eddie Colman, Freddie Goodwin, Jackie Blanchflower, Duncan Edwards, Wilf McGuinness, John Doherty, Billy Whelan, Dennis Viollet, Albert Scanlon, David Pegg, Bobby Charlton, Alex Dawson, Ian Greaves, Ronnie Cope, Kenny Morgans, and but for the tragedy of Munich, that list would have been much longer. Within five years of that tragedy, the club was back at the forefront of English football again, and young players like George Best, Brian Kidd, David Sadler, Shay Brennan, Nobby Stiles, John Fitzpatrick, Bobby Noble, John Aston, Nobby Lawton, Francis Burns, Jimmy Ryan, all came through. So Busby’s record in producing young home grown players leaves Ferguson’s record in the same stakes, way behind.

It was alleged that when Busby did retire, he left behind an ageing team, but that simply isn’t true. In fact only Foulkes, Crerand, Brennan, and Charlton were over the age of 30, and if you looked at Busby’s full squad at the time of his retirement, the average age was just 25. Busby was revered wherever he went and his legacy when he retired was what we all knew as Manchester United. As the late Arthur Hopcraft said in his book “The Football Man”;

“To watch Sir Matt Busby move about Manchester is to observe a public veneration. He is not merely popular; not merely respected for his flair as a manager. In imposing his personality overwhelmingly on his club he has won a place as the city’s constant hero, outlasting his players, growing old with the fans. That special emotional attachment which the Munich disaster established between people and club applies specifically to him, because he was desperately injured and yet survived. He has had an extraordinary life, and its explosive drama has never disrupted his dignity as a man, nor his vision as a manger.”

Ferguson came from the similar kind of stock as Busby. Strong, hard-working Scots, with a tremendous energy, and work ethic. It is true to say that in his 24 years as manager at Old Trafford, he has built a dynasty – similar in many aspects to what Busby had done during his time. It was hard going at first and stories abound that prior to the FA Cup success in 1990, he was on the verge of being shown the door. Thankfully, for him, that never happened, and in the 20 years since, his success as a football manager is indisputable.

So why now should he be questioned, why should there be discontent about the man? In many ways he is in a no-win situation. Damned if he does – damned if he doesn’t. However, some of the criticism is self inflicted. I am sure that, as every other person in life does, he regrets certain things. His early alliance with the Irishmen, McManus, and Magnier, being the main one. It was an alliance that nearly brought about his downfall, but indirectly it was also an alliance that eventually paved the way for the Glazer take-over in May 2005.

It’s the Glazer situation that causes the discontent with the fans. His continued remarks of support for the American family rub people the wrong way, but what is he expected to do? There are two sides of the coin. If he had resigned back in 2005, would that have made Manchester United a better club? Would the Glazers have moved on? What would have happened to the loyal staff he had in place around him? What would the effects have been on the team? Manchester United has had a pretty successful period since 2005 and that is down to one man – Sir Alex Ferguson.

Just a few years ago, his legacy to the club would never have been cast into any kind of doubt by the fans. However, from the fans point of view, that legacy is indeed looking as though it could be tainted in a big way. Over the last two seasons there has been glaring weaknesses in the team – particularly in the midfield. It has been obvious to most followers that the team needed strengthening. It has also been obvious that contrary to what David Gill says, there are not sufficient monies available to enable him to do this. His own quote of “there is no value in the market” has certainly ruffled majority of United fan’s feathers. Paying out 8 million pounds for an untried and untested foreign youngster more than raised a few eyebrows. With Giggs, Neville, Scholes, Van der Saar, almost near to the end of their careers, plus no sign of Hargreaves ever making a return to the game, and Ferdinand unreliable to play 20 games in a season, there are no real quality replacements waiting in the wings.

The start to this 2010/11 season has exposed the quality of his present squad. Despite his quotes about being happy with the strength of the youngsters coming through, he is certainly not fooling the fans. Most, if any do not put too much faith in them carrying United to further glories.

Abrasive – certainly. Contradictory – yes. Manipulative – no doubt. Stubborn – you bet he is. Compassionate – more than people would know. It’s my guess that when he does retire he will be remembered by Manchester United fans as much as Busby is, but almost certainly never with the same reverence. Saint or Sinner? Hero or Villain? Or just simply The Greatest? The choice is yours.
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Old 17th October 2010, 10:00   #2
Andrea Barton
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Ineresting article Tom - as ever. I think you were a little too kind to Sir Matt in his final days as manager. You say that the squad being old is not true but it was certainly tired & in decline & there was plenty of evidence that Sir Matt himself had lost his enthusiasm - & the dressing room. For me there are parallels with where Fergie is now - & with City being in the ascendancy. For me the dispute with M&M - largely borne out of Fergie's arrogance - is a big blot on his copybook as is his praise of the Glazers. That along with my astonishment at his putting up with being deprived of funds to build the team he wants. Sure, he has a good salary and he does like to look after himself financially (which is why his champagne socialism irritates me so much) but he could earn as much or more elsewhere so what is the driving force? Is it simply that he cannot let go? Would the Glazers sack him if he spoke out because where would that leave them. I agree with much of what you say Tom, the success up to 2005 was wonderful & down to Fergie (no doubt about that) but thereafter it was tainted. Compassionate? sure, there have been many stories but equally there has been the nepotism. In the end, most people who succeed at the top have a 'dark side', you don't get far by being totally nice & incapable of making the difficult decisions & this is the case with Fergie. It is just a shame that his final years will have been marred by the Glazer ownership & his apparent stance on it all. So when he goes it will be 'So long Fergie & thanks for all the trophies' but let us hope that his departure is not accompanied by an obituary for our club.
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